In a mandate from the Vermont Legislature, public schools will adopt a unified chart of accounts by July 1, 2019 and make the switch from their current finance management programs to eFinancePlus, by July 1, 2020.
For Colchester School District, this means leaving Munis, a system its central office has used for the past 18 years, according to business and operations manager George Trieb.
“I see the logic,” Trieb said. “It makes sense, but it’s a big deal because it touches all of the things we do in the back office.”
CSD will adopt the software this winter. The district planned to begin using the software this fall, but the Vt. Agency of Education elected to delay implementation, Trieb said.
“It’s going to be a rather large challenge for us,” he said.
Some members of the central office have solely used Munis, and the software has also been adapted with some district-specific features.
“We might lose some functionality going to a new system,” Trieb said. “There’s certainly going to be a very steep learning curve.”
For the AOE and the public, the changes are intended to improve the clarity and readability of state schools’ finances.
“There are some pretty huge benefits to having a statewide system in terms of our ability of being able to understand how we’re spending money to educate kids,” Byrne said.
She said the consistency and comparability that will come from a unified chart of accounts as well as a standardized recording software will help policymakers, legislators and citizens better understand what schools are spending their money on.
“If we can have a better idea of where schools are spending their money then we can ask the question like ‘why,’” Byrne said. “Or if there’s changes over time, to kind of understand the pressures that public schools are under.”
She added the standardized system will create transparency for Vermonters, allowing them to see how their school district spends its budget compared to other state schools.
The state has entered a seven-year contract with PowerSchool to use its eFinancePlus software. The total cost of the software for the state will be $5.2 million, according to Byrne, including a $3 million appropriation from the legislature.
“We’re going to start conversations to ensure that once that is exhausted, there is a mechanism to fund the system,” Byrne said. “There’ll have to be some mechanism for us to pay for it at the statewide level of a mechanism for us to bill a school for their share.”
For now, any school district or supervisory union that makes the switch will receive unlimited data conversion support and unlimited amount of remote one-on-one time with the program’s consultants to assist with data conversion.
“The reason for waiting, initially, for [implementation] is my hope is that some of the challenges have been worked through,” Trieb said. “By the time they get to us … I’m hoping that the implementation is a little more smooth.”
CSD purchased Munis for fiscal year 2019 before learning of the mandate. The district will run Munis and eFinancePlus alongside one another from January through June 30, according to Trieb.
“The good news is that will give us a meaningful way to check our data to make sure that everything that was implemented into eFinancePlus is accurate,” he said. “The downside to that is you’re doing duplicate work.”
The AOE’s contract with PowerSchool will end in March 2025, at which point the agency will seek new bids from finance management system providers, according to Byrne. She added this creates an opportunity to introduce competition and receive competitive pricing every few years.
“This is going to be new to all of us, and it’s going to be a huge learning curve,” Trieb said.